Written by Laura Dingman
I can still remember the look on her face. My daughter stood in the doorway, clenched fists on her hips, and in her most determined little two-year-old voice said, “I can do it myself, Mommy!” She’ll be seven in two months, but her determination hasn’t changed much. It’s amazing how God can whack me over the head with her words sometimes. In those moments when I am so frustrated by her stubborn will, God very gently reminds me that I am the exact same way.
As a musician, I have been conditioned to continually work toward perfection, consistently working out the mistakes of a piece. There was a standard that was expected and that standard was perfection. It was obvious that in any given performance, that goal would just not be met. There would always be something that fell short. The expectation was to work harder. And harder. And harder. But each time, the same outcome.
And as a result, a vicious cycle was born. The cycle of works.
Fall short. Work harder. Fall short. Work harder.
This cycle was the birthplace of my perfectionism—of my works-based gospel. It makes for really great musicians, but lousy followers of Christ. We will always fall short. We are sinners. As long as we live in this skin under the curse, we will fall short. Some days we’ll fall harder than others, but we will battle our flesh just like Paul. He wrestled with falling short: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Rom. 7:15). The problem comes when we try to move forward in this horrible cycle and fix where we have fallen short by working harder—being better. I, like my daughter, scream, “I can do it myself!” I fall short and think somehow I can do something that will erase the mistake.
I’m learning, though, that there is a better way. A different cycle. The cycle of grace. It’s a completely new way of thinking and I still struggle to wrap my mind around it. It’s complexly simple. It looks like this:
I fall short. Jesus says, “My grace is sufficient for you.”
That’s it. No more. He says, “My work on the cross is enough.”
I absolutely love the New Living Translation of Ephesians 2:8-10:
God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.
Works says, “You’re identity is in what you do. Do more. You can’t be enough. You will never be enough.”
Grace says, “You are who God says you are and you’re fearfully and wonderfully made—God’s masterpiece. You are already more than enough because you have been bought at a price. All you need to do is accept more of what has already been done for you.”
We have been made perfect because of Christ. I haven’t gotten that down yet and I probably never will, but I am learning that grace is an unforced rhythm that brings deep joy and an inexplicable peace.
You can read more about Laura here.